“We will not play the role of bystanders to the detention of journalists,” said Journalists Syndicate Chairman Mamdouh al-Walei on Tuesday, pointing to the recent detention of two female journalists from Al-Fagr newspaper. “This is another assault on the freedom of the press,” he said.
Al-Fagr’s Fatma al-Zahraa was sentenced to two months in prison and her colleague Sally Hussein to one month for defaming and violating the privacy of conservative Islamic preacher Sheikh Youssef al-Badry.
Walei called for a new law that does away with prison sentences for journalists, replacing them with fines, and gives the Journalists Syndicate, rather than the public prosecutor, responsibility for calling journalists to account for breaches in professional ethics.
He also called on those affected by published news to resort to the syndicate and not the judiciary. “It makes no sense that journalists are jailed after the revolution that came in the first place to demand freedoms,” he said.
He said that a syndicate delegation is talking with Sheikh Badry to try and resolve the problem amicably, so as to safeguard the futures of the two journalists. He also said that a legal committee had been formed to appeal the verdict.
Another delegation met with the attorney general on Tuesday to ask him to suspend the sentences.
For its part, the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information condemned the ruling in a statement issued Tuesday, and said it would appeal it in the Court of Cassation.
The statement also called for the repeal of all laws that restrict freedoms, and for legislative amendments to those articles that provide for the imprisonment of journalists.
“Criminal trials are knives to the throats of journalists in a country that saw a revolution calling for freedom,” the statement said.
A court fined the two journalists in 2009, but the prosecution appealed the sentences and the new verdict was issued on Monday.
Translated from the Arabic Edition